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Parenting Hack: Pay Attention to Attention

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Adult attention is the single most reinforcing thing for a child. Except maybe for sugar. Or video games. Or sugar. But adult attention has to top the list for just about every child. Of course, as a parent you have limited time. And that means limited attention for your kid. Someone has to work. And who’s going to make dinner? That laundry won’t do itself. You only have a limited amount of attention to give. And if your attention reinforces but it is limited, the question is: what do you give your attention to? What do you reinforce?

Too often we give most of our attention to problems. That makes sense, as parents, we are problem-solvers. Broken shoe-laces, lost toys, runny noses – we fix what is wrong. But all that problem-solving can set us up to pay most of our attention to the problems, and when we do, we accidently reinforce the problems. I enourage parents to do a 70/30 split: pay 70% of your attention to the things you like, and 30% to problems.

For parents who want to raise a skeptical kid here are some things to pay attention to and reinforce:

  • Asking questions
  • Expressing doubt
  • Wanting reasons
  • Looking things up
  • Showing interest in how we know facts, rather than what they are
  • Admitting they are wrong
  • Changing their mind

Of course this is just a starter list. There are many more things that could go on it. For a critical thinking parent the hard part is not knowing what to pay attention to, it is putting effort into changing the pattern of what you pay attention to. Focus on the positive, not the problems.

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